Books


#721
Ever get to the end of a book and felt like you’d been conned. I’ve just this minute finished Dan Simmons' “Hyperion”, a very very long book I now wish I’d never started. It's basically a reworking of the 7 Samurai, which was basically The Magnificent 7, but without the final showdown, I now realize I’m expected to read another book if I want to reach the climax. It’s listed as SF and features plenty of SF motifs and gadgets but it reads more like quest fantasy. I didn’t mind the priest’s tale and the soldier’s yarn was notable for some of the more ludicrous sex scenes I’ve read-if you want to spice up your love life you and your partner should beat the ■■■■ out of someone and then get it on, preferably smeared in the victim’s blood – yes, that kept the pages turning. The Prof’s daughter’s time reversal tragedy was ingenious, if painful reading, but the final few campfire style expository tales were just hard ■■■■■■ going, bit like Monty Python’s Yorkshiremen stories without the jokes. Just get on with it and tell me what happens will you! And then I find out I’m meant to read number ■■■■■■ 2 to discover the denouement. Well ■■■■ that for a laugh. Some critics think Simmons can write, but by the end his grating grandiose style was ■■■■■■■■ me to tears. Why did I keep reading? I'm stubborn and I naively thought I’d get to the final gunfight or whatever. What happens next? The Shrike can tear them all to pieces and the Ousters can blow the rest of the Hegemony to the shizen hausen for all I care. Incomplete books like this should be forced to carry warning labels. PS If you’ve read the sequel, I wouldn’t mind knowing what happens to the baby. PPS It's won a hatful of awards so I'm probably wrong.

I liked Hyperion. I instead disliked the sequel and stopped halfway through…I can’t remember what happens to the baby other than the sequel kept introducing side plots and new characters, and stalling on continuing the stories from the first book…


#722

Warning: Spoilers ahead for a novel that I expect to become fairly popular in the near future.

“The Vegetarian” by Han Kang, a Korean writer, is about food. I can hear the groans from here. She wrote the book a while ago but I gather it’s only recently been translated. It is a short novel that I had assumed would be ambient and elusive. I was wrong, it’s a runaway truck driven by an uncompromising polemic, it knocked me down and then backed over me just to make sure.
Han Kang was inspired to write the novel by a line of poetry, “I believe that humans should be plants.” The protagonist, a seemingly conventional Korean wife, has an epiphany and swears off meat, “The meat smell. Your body smells of meat”, and then her world realigns itself with extreme violence. She suffers, oh she suffers; she is raped, abused, bashed, abandoned, used as a human canvas, manipulated and institutionalized. Meanwhile she sets out to turn herself into a tree.
In turns it’s sinister, psychotic, intense, suspenseful, painterly, unpleasant and yet liberating and ecstatic. But it’s not experimental, the narrative is linear and direct.
I’ve seen the content of the novel critically treated as allegorical but, as a vegetarian, it reeked of realism to me. If confrontation of animal abuse is the last taboo, it’s in the vanguard of modern literature. “The lives of the animals I ate have all lodged there. Blood and flesh, all those butchered bodies are scattered in every cranny, and though the physical remnants were excreted, their lives still stick stubbornly to my insides.” That might read as crazy to you but I hear her.
Of course it deals with other stuff too- sexism, alienation, the oppressive nature of families- and Korean society gets a thorough trouncing, but I admit I mainly viewed it through vegetarian eyes. And after all of that, it’s a riveting read.
If you’re still here you’re either white hot with anger or a vegie sympathiser. Either way, the moral: If your child or partner or parent suddenly decides they don’t want to eat meat, do the unthinkable, back off and keep your opinions to yourself. Even more, if you love them, encourage them to do what they want to do with their bodies.
Spare and haunting but utterly mesmerizing, “The Vegetarian” might just end up being one of the great books of our era.
PS I got all excited when I read the Koreans have made a movie of it and I was ecstatic when I found it on Youtube, but then I discovered it doesn’t have subtitles-bummer. I watched a bit of it anyway and I think I’ll sit down and watch the whole thing because the narrative is clearly recognizable, even without language. Or maybe I just want to try being a plant for a bit.


#723
Book 3 of Pierce Brown's Red Rising trilogy is here and i am excited.

Got it this week.

First chapter is a bit hard but it warms up and is a belter.

Have you finished his book yet Barnz !

All I can say is that I know hate this author and hope he ends up on Mars.

If you have finished it, I will explain what I mean.


#724
Ever get to the end of a book and felt like you’d been conned. I’ve just this minute finished Dan Simmons' “Hyperion”, a very very long book I now wish I’d never started. It's basically a reworking of the 7 Samurai, which was basically The Magnificent 7, but without the final showdown, I now realize I’m expected to read another book if I want to reach the climax. It’s listed as SF and features plenty of SF motifs and gadgets but it reads more like quest fantasy. I didn’t mind the priest’s tale and the soldier’s yarn was notable for some of the more ludicrous sex scenes I’ve read-if you want to spice up your love life you and your partner should beat the ■■■■ out of someone and then get it on, preferably smeared in the victim’s blood – yes, that kept the pages turning. The Prof’s daughter’s time reversal tragedy was ingenious, if painful reading, but the final few campfire style expository tales were just hard ■■■■■■ going, bit like Monty Python’s Yorkshiremen stories without the jokes. Just get on with it and tell me what happens will you! And then I find out I’m meant to read number ■■■■■■ 2 to discover the denouement. Well ■■■■ that for a laugh. Some critics think Simmons can write, but by the end his grating grandiose style was ■■■■■■■■ me to tears. Why did I keep reading? I'm stubborn and I naively thought I’d get to the final gunfight or whatever. What happens next? The Shrike can tear them all to pieces and the Ousters can blow the rest of the Hegemony to the shizen hausen for all I care. Incomplete books like this should be forced to carry warning labels. PS If you’ve read the sequel, I wouldn’t mind knowing what happens to the baby. PPS It's won a hatful of awards so I'm probably wrong.

I liked Hyperion. I instead disliked the sequel and stopped halfway through…I can’t remember what happens to the baby other than the sequel kept introducing side plots and new characters, and stalling on continuing the stories from the first book…

I read a couple of books by Dan Simmons about an ex-con private eye in Buffalo NY. Very much on the hard-boiled gritty end of the scale.

Then I found a book by him called Ilium about the Trojan War. I got about one page in. I’m afraid I don’t like fantasy or science fiction…


#725

Michael Robotham, winner of the 2015 Gold Dagger Award for best crime novel, is apparently Australian, but you wouldn’t pick it from his first self acknowledged novel, “The Suspect”(I gather he ghost wrote a series of best selling “autobiographies” prior to his “debut”). But I was looking for a holiday novel and it certainly fitted the bill, a page turning thriller that taps into the “Cracker” template of British psychologist crime buster who risks all, especially his all too perfect life and family, in the pursuit of the serial killer. You probably already know the drill- abuse, threatened love ones, a bit of torture and ■■■■■■, hidden pasts that come back to haunt you and the obligatory double twist in the tail just in case you thought it was a bit obvious. If MacDonalds set up a school of thriller writing, Robotham could be their writer in residence. A Chinese meal thriller, very tasty but…
It certainly did what it was meant to do and is a very impressive first up effort. I’ll probably get round to reading the one that won this year’s award but I’ll hold my expectations in check and save it for some jetlagged moments.


#726

I read Robotham’s first 3. Not for me.

If I want Australian residents writing set in London, then Barry Maitland’s Brock and Kolla’s police procedurals are pretty good.


#727

If you’re an aspiring writer don’t read John Banville’s “Birchwood”, you’ll give up in despair. I’ve read a few of his others and been gobsmacked by his prose but this is the ant’s pjs or whatever. Just so good. The plot’s a bit of a hotchpotch, large helpings of Great Expectations with some Downton Abbey and even a bit of “MacArthurs Park”(Birchwood is a crumbling Irish manor that certainly lets in the rain) with a mysterious gypsy circus and lots of Gothic tragedy set against the backdrop of the Irish Potato famine with some startling and violent appearances from the cross dressing radicals, the “Molly Maguires”, who I’d previously encountered in Peter Carey’s Kelly gang take. I suspect no one writes better than Banville. It’s short and a bit challenging but, and I’m going to repeat myself, which Banville never would, just so good. If you want to experience him in a less literary setting you can always dip into the pseudonymous Benjamin Black thrillers, sort of Banville lite but still ■■■■■■ impressive. He says he writes them about three times the pace.


#728

Vale Bob Ellis. “Things we did last Summer” remains one the best accounts of Australian politics I have read and “Newsfront” and “Goodbye Paradise” were terrific movies. He was of course a political animal, and a regular speech writer for several Labor leaders. With all of that I was especially drawn to his always opinionated and acerbic articles in the Nation Review-now there was a great rag!


#729

Seriously, seriously good book.
Basically 202 anecdotes, some personal, some observational, some historical, drawn together to build a whole argument.
And along the way paints a picture of Australia from so many different perspectives.
Helps if you’re a true believer, but if you’re not then as long as you go in with the mindset that you don’t have to agree with it all to get something from it, then you will.


#730

Not often I’m ahead of the curve but I CALLED IT!
“The Vegetarian” by Han Kang just won the Man International Booker (for translated novels) - yeah I know I didn’t predict the actual win, I didn’t know it was nominated, but, like everyone else who’s read it, I did recently praise it to the skies (March 14 above but I give away a bit so avoid it if you think you might read the book).
All meat eaters should read it of their own free will, but if they refuse, force read it to them; tie them down, tape their eyes open and run the text across a kindle held in front of their faces. That might seem a bit extreme but if you’ve read the book you’ll understand the allusion. Hopefully they’ll now translate more of her books and provide subtitles for the movie.
Short and, dare I say it, potentially life changing.


#731
So I'm currently spending a month traveling around Southern Africa and thought I'd take War and Peace with me as it's big and a classic. My god but it's so boring....has anyone read it, and if so, does it get interesting at some stage?

Great book, have read it three or four times and gets better with each read. First read it on a holiday in New Calendia, sitting at beach, drinking French champers and eating lobster. That is how you get through it !


#732

I actually prefer the old-school kindle to the paperwhite. The interface is much easier to use, it’s less inclined to randomly lose your page or decide to head to the table of contents or similar stupidity if you accidentally brush the screen, and the battery lasts much longer. The paperwhite is generally a bit faster when paging through and the backlight is sometimes handy (and the keyboard on the old one is really just wasted space) but it doesn’t really make up for it IMHO.


#733

I ended up getting the paperwhite, in happy with it!


#734
I ended up getting the paperwhite, in happy with it!

Ditto.

But I still read on the iPad too. The Kindle is for outside…and to save the iPad running out of juice…which the MLB app tends to do.


#735
I actually prefer the old-school kindle to the paperwhite. The interface is much easier to use, it's less inclined to randomly lose your page or decide to head to the table of contents or similar stupidity if you accidentally brush the screen, and the battery lasts much longer. The paperwhite is generally a bit faster when paging through and the backlight is sometimes handy (and the keyboard on the old one is really just wasted space) but it doesn't really make up for it IMHO.

Yeah I agree. I’ve got the Voyage which allows you to push buttons to change pages (as well as touch the screen) and I wish there was a way to turn off the screen-page turn all-together as I am always accidentally changing pages by an errant touch.


#736
So I'm currently spending a month traveling around Southern Africa and thought I'd take War and Peace with me as it's big and a classic. My god but it's so boring....has anyone read it, and if so, does it get interesting at some stage?

Great book, have read it three or four times and gets better with each read. First read it on a holiday in New Calendia, sitting at beach, drinking French champers and eating lobster. That is how you get through it !


I see where I’ve been going wrong…no beach, no French champers and no lobster.
I just can’t get into it at all…

#737

@Alan_Noonan_10 check out “the only rule is it has to work” similar vein to the bullpen gospels, written by two guys who were major fantasy baseball guys who write for baseball prospectus, and want to see if their theory’s work in the real world so take over as Gm’s for a Indy minor league team and try and use random maths to put together their line up.


#738

Doug Stanhope “The Long Version of a Suicide Post-It Note: A Love Story” (The publishers forced Doug to rename it “Digging Up Mother: A Love Story” – yes, even Stanhope can’t escape corporate censorship.)
This may seem incongruous to those who have never heard of him, or at least only heard of him in connection with the Johnny Depp divorce controversy, but I have been anxiously sweating on this book, and, as a pessimist, expecting it to be another padded out crap celeb filler. I’m especially relieved to announce that it’s not, Doug has nailed it again and shame on me for even pausing to doubt him.
First confession, I love Doug and have for over a decade, for mine the only standup even close to matching him is Stewart Lee, his cross Atlantic rival for the greatest living and breathing stand up comedian.
At times it’s a bit like Doug’s version of ‎ Kerouac’s On the Road – as Doug traverses back and forth across the USA with a cast of feral characters in pursuit of fun and girls and alcohol and drugs and a good time…with MOM as a vicarious spectator.
Initially I thought the title was deceptive. Bonny Stanhope certainly starts the book off with a bang with her death scene, if you’re familiar with the opening of Doug’s “Beer Hall Putsch” vid you’ll know what I mean and if you’re not you’ve missed one of the great stand up pieces. She jumps in and out of the narrative as it progresses, but it settles down into what appears to be Doug’s tale, until you stop and think about the way she knowingly and unknowingly shaped him.
Doug doesn’t try to be flashy, he just lays it down like it is through his admittedly vague alcohol fogged and drug addled recollections. He confesses to relying heavily on other more sober sources, including the letters he exchanged for years with a death row pen pal but Doug unsurprisingly excels as a true story teller and embellisher and here he fleshes out many of the standup bits that his fans revere and commit to memory. They’re not quite as jocular in reality, eg the final cocktail party checkout for his mom waxes less comical in the cold light of truth. And the infamous abortion joke, the very first thing I heard from Doug (and I still recall its jaw dropping impact), isn’t nearly as funny in real life – not really an abortion but a grueling ru486 termination of pain and shame- Doug’s vasectomy soon after tells all you need to know about his real state of mind. It’s then that you realise the jokes were and are a way of dealing with pain and suffering.
Doug doesn’t sugarcoat, the child Doug was little prick and he only got worse as a teenager, early adult? and pre stand up conman. He exposes it all brazenly. It was actually a relief for this reader when he finally stumbled into standup, not just because that’s where he sits comfortably but because it’s hard to believe he hadn’t chanced his criminal luck one time too many. It’s clearly Doug, but he exposes the flaws and raw emotional side more readily than he would on stage and always less flatteringly than you’d expect.
But Doug grows up, in the end, he has to, from a charming but devious and amoral prick to begin with, to a genuinely wise and admirable person by the finale. And what a finish! His open wound depiction of the final stages of his mom’s mostly bitter and occasionally sweet life is powerful and immediate and spares no-one. The greatest revelation? Doug cares about his mother and those close to him more than I could have imagined. It’s ■■■■■■■ sensational, a truly revelatory, catch you in the throat, cathartic tribute to the love he held for his twisted and fragile and manipulative and frustrating and bitter and singular mother, a love I never really quite bought until he nailed it in his brilliant closer.
If you prefer a milder comedian of course, like Dane Cook for instance, that’s fine by me, but I’m not sure it would be fine with Doug and it certainly wouldn’t be for his Dane Cook hating mom. If I was a movie maker I’d be pitching for the movie rights already but who is going to play Doug?
Can’t wait for the Bingo book in a few years!
Fans shouldn’t even think about not reading it, non fans I don’t understand.


The bit that inspired the book.


#739

Hmm, I like Doug, not convinced he is the greatest living comedian but could possibly go for this…


#740

Just finished Ben H. Winters’ apocalyptic police procedural “The Last Policeman” and highly recommend it. If you like crime fiction but refuse to read Sci Fi it might be time to reconsider. Anyway, it’s probably more alternative history than Sci Fi but the approaching lethal asteroid determines the mindset and nature of what is essentially a whodunit. I recently read Kingsley Amis’s famous survey of Sci Fi, “New Maps of Hell”, from the 60s, where, amongst other things, he urged Sci Fi writers to lift their literary game and explore the possibilities of a union with crime. Winters has done both. The sort of book the enthusiasts swallow whole, which is a shame because his writing and characterisation are regularly nuanced and sophisticated. But he also understands the structure of a thriller and the need to maintain tension and pace. Unfortunately it’s part of a trilogy, although it can be read as a stand alone, and generally I resent having to wait for “the ■■■■ to crow three times”. I’ll give the next one, “Countdown City”, a run but only because this one was so good but I’m not sure I want to read the finale with its inevitable “impact”.